An egg cracked open in China and a two-headed turtle popped out. That’s not a joke and it’s not exactly uncommon – an Internet search will bring up plenty of two-headed turtle pictures and stories. However, this one unveiled a mystery. The man who found it is an anonymous turtle farmer in Jiangxi province who says he’s never seen a two-headed turtle despite the fact that he’s hatched over 30 million of them. Thirty million turtles on one farm! There are over 1,000 of these turtle farms in China. Where are all of these turtles going?
First things first. According to People’s Daily Online, the two heads on the inch-long baby turtle are the result of an embryo that didn’t completely split. They operate independently and the turtle is eating and growing, although it’s not specified if both heads are gobbling those little turtle flakes from the shaker. Yes, it’s a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) – the most common pet turtle in the world. If it survives, the two-head mutant non-ninja turtle probably won’t be sold in a pet store.
But its millions of pond-mates will, although not in the U.S. where it’s illegal to sell turtles with shells less than four inches in diameter due to salmonella and other diseases. However, there are still turtle farms in the U.S. that raised 32 million red-eared sliders (which are native to many southeastern states) from 2003 to 2005 (the last time statistics were made available). If they’re illegal in the U.S., where did they go?
To China, where it’s estimated that about 300 million Chinese farm-raised turtles are sold annually for about $750 million. The majority of these are Chinese softshell turtles (Pelodiscus sinensis) which are raised primarily for food and traditional medicines.
What about those millions of one-headed red-eared sliders? Since they’re popular pets, it’s assumed that some are sitting under plastic palm trees in bowls on counters in China and other non-U.S. countries. With the Chinese appetite for turtles, it’s safe to assume that a few are ending up as dinner, even though they’re not known to be the tastiest. Unfortunately, many are ending up back in the wild where they’re one of the world’s top invasive species. So where are the other millions?
Perhaps the two-headed turtle can use its two brains to find them.